Guts, Glory, Pajamas & Netflix: Why Entrepreneurs Get Sick and How to Prevent It

I’m thinking of where I was a year ago.

About to get married, with one foot in a new career and hefty baggage filled with the old ones, I could barely remember the last time I took a lunch break, let alone an email exodus longer than 30 seconds.

I had learned to be busy but how would I teach myself to become un-busy?

This time last year, I was designing the seed paper kippot for our big fat bi-partisan wedding, planning every detail of the eco-kosher  catering and trying to accommodate every living thing at our venue, including a very defiant group of livestock who would go on to break into our ceremony uninvited and quack very loudly to the gasps of everyone in attendance (me, on the other hand, I just laughed, relishing the moment of uncontrollable duck chaos that characterized an otherwise, overly well thought-out wedding day).

Running was easy. Planning was easy. Busyness, as it turned out, was the hardest habit I needed to break.

That is, until I got really sick.

Four months of being mostly bedridden and eating very little changed me in a big way.  As I struggled to make it out of bed and to cope with the anchor-sized pain in my gut that despite every effort, would not release, I found my heart begging for rest. “Stop trying,” she whispered. “Let it be,” she rang out.

And paradoxically, it was only when I gave in to the pain that the pain loosened its hold on me.

We’re taught to be successful. To be pioneers. To innovate and make tradition new again. At least, that’s what I was taught, both by text and community. Through a combination of Jewish ancestry and contemporary Jewish professional ethos, I had arrived at offering so many programs and services in partnership and cooperation with tremendous people that I had lost me. How could I let this happen? How could I re-integrate myself into my work and my people and become whole again?

“Love the L-rd your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live” – Deuteronomy 1:6

The Tanakh calls on us to love G-d with all our hearts “in order that we may live,” and, quite literally, vivifies this commandment with injunctions to heed G-d and keep divine laws and commandments. In order to live, our hearts must come to life through word and deed. Thus, we are not meant to work blindly, but live heartily. For through the heart comes the substance and richness of life.

It took another eight months before that holding feeling in my stomach would no longer have a hold on me.  I used to run a “shul without walls” program in my house, but do so no longer. And I’ve turned down a heap of job and internship opportunities that looked good on paper, but just could not compute with my gut.

That experience of drowning in and then pulling the plug on the busy? It actually made me gutsier.

And though I still have days where I long to push beyond my limits, I have learned to pause, to write and to take long walks in the nighttime. If my life were a page of gemara, I’d say I’ve come to appreciate the margins.

We don’t talk about this much as Jewish entrepreneurs, because the truth is: that we like that exciting, promising or shiny new venture feel.  I mean, it’s so much more acceptable to say: “I’m taking on X new thing!” rather than “For real, I’ve chosen to skip out on some things in favor of pajamas and Netflix.” And, yet, it stands: Success is in knowing what we can’t do and filling the available space with what we can.

After all, our hearts are supposed to be opened by G-d to commandments, aren’t they?

And, last I checked, excessive busyness is not part of the program.

But mindful, soulful and heart-full living most certainly, is. And the margins? They are what make all of this worthwhile.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.